I live in Michigan, which, of course, borders Canada. I’ve never really thought much about the border. I suppose I simply figured the most egregious smuggling here involves bootleg maple syrup and duty-free liquor. But apparently, it’s dangerous ground.
So dangerous, in fact, the U.S. House approved a bill on Tuesday that, according to opponents, would supersede some pretty powerful national laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.
The “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” would give the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection sweeping access to federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border. These are lands, of course, that are largely open to public hunting and fishing.
The “border bill” allows the U.S. Border Patrol to construct and maintain roads and fences, patrol federal lands by vehicle, install surveillance equipment, and deploy temporary infrastructure such as operating bases.
As originally drafted, the bill would have allowed the Department of Homeland Security to waive 36 federal environmental protection laws in an effort to facilitate increased border patrol activities on public land. An amendment reduced the number of waived environmental laws to 16.
Currently, those laws prevent government land managers from doing such things as building or closing roads without going through a public input process and conducting an environmental impact study.
In other words, if the Department of Homeland Security determines that a piece of public land within 100 miles of the U.S. border needs some added monitoring, it could build a road, set up a base camp and install surveillance equipment. If that area happens to be a prime piece of wilderness that’s home to big game, fish or some rare species of tree, so be it. They can set up shop and conduct their business as they see fit. And they can do so without public input and without regard to the loss of public access.
I’m not one who takes homeland security lightly. There are, I’m sure, instances where increased border patrol is needed.
Some conservation organizations are calling the bill an outright attack on public lands. I don’t see it that way.
If this bill should become law, those lands impacted will no longer be public. They will become the property of the Department of Homeland Security. Owned not by you and I, but by Federal land managers who will do with them what they want.
And that’s not the definition of publicly-owned land. That’s the definition of a police state, where we live in fear of what might happen and willingly sacrifice the rights and freedoms we’ve fought so hard to enjoy.